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Book Review: Julia Keller tackles heroin in 24-hour crisis

By Oline H. Cogdill, Associated Press
Sept. 13, 2017 at 7 p.m.

This cover image released by Minotaur shows "Fast Falls the Night," a novel by Julia Keller. (Minotaur via AP)

An ongoing theme in Julia Keller's superior series about Raythune County prosecutor Bell Elkins is how these West Virginia residents maneuver when jobs are scarce but drugs have overrun the area. Hope, though often in short supply, is the only thing to which they can cling.

Hope seems elusive in "Fast Falls the Night," Keller's excellent sixth novel that takes place during 24 hours, mainly in the town of Acker's Gap. By the end of the horrific day, 33 people will have overdosed from tainted heroin, three will have died from the drugs and two other deaths are directly related to the heroin that has been laced with an elephant tranquilizer. The epidemic stretches thin the prosecutor's office, the police, paramedics and hospital staff as each hour brings more overdoses.

The situation also brings a moral conundrum — how to treat addicts for whom few have sympathy. "They've done it to themselves," becomes a constant refrain. But nothing happens in a vacuum as the problem seeps throughout the community.

Keller's challenge, which she rises to beautifully, is making the reader care and understand why these people turned to drugs, without sanctioning their actions. "Fast Falls the Night" is less a tale about drug overdoses and more about compassion and complex characters. Connections run deep in this multi-generational area with its decades of secrets, stymieing the investigation to find the local dealer.

The balance in "Fast Falls the Night" comes from Bell and Sheriff's Deputy Jake Oakes, both of whom, for different reasons, have chosen to live in the area. Bell's sense of justice and desire to make her hometown a better place propels her daily, both professionally and personally.

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